You want more, happier bus passengers? Here’s the Poole recipe

12 April 2016


  • Local authority commitment – political and financial. Being a ‘unitary’ authority, so in charge of roads as well, adds zest. Local authority officers who are determined to make things happen. Active traffic enforcement.
  • Good sized bus station in the right place (next to the shopping centre). Enough restrictions (man-made, such as Congestion Charging or physical as in this case – sea front) to make town centre access problematic. Better information and better bus shelters (with proper seats).
  • Operators who are flexible and want to make it work and are willing to invest, but enough competition between operators to keep things lively (More Bus – a Go Ahead subsidiary and Yellow Buses – part of the French RATP group in this case).
  • Voluntary Quality Bus Partnership Agreement with main operators.
  • Government capital funding – the late, lamented Local Sustainable Transport Fund in particular. Developer contributions underpin additional services. Saturation of car ownership – optional?


  • Mix the above over a period of time .
  • Gradual, small improvements will build into a much better, more attractive service.


  • Smaller can be more beautiful, so this recipe may not work for very large quantities or for much smaller amounts.
  • The quality of bus services can be dramatically affected by things outside the control of operators and authorities – internet shopping, for example.
  • Local authority spending cuts are making things difficult – but patronage growth has ensured marginal services are increasingly commercial. The absence of further ring fenced central Government capital funding makes it all much harder.

Joking aside, it was great to be asked down to visit by the ever energetic and enthusiastic Nick Phillips, Accessibility Team Leader at the Transportation Services Department, the Borough of Poole. I was able to see some of the new buses, bus shelters, bus priority improvements, accurate real-time information, the busy bus station and other things that have driven an 80 per cent rise in bus passenger numbers. Admittedly from a relatively low base but the numbers, including passenger satisfaction as measured by our Bus Passenger Survey, are heading in the right direction.

Points to note:

  • In an era of severely constrained local authority funding, bus shelters must pay for themselves: a unique single supplier solution ensures the advertising revenue (including from digital) is reinvested in good quality bus shelters and real-time displays.
  • An early adopter of real-time to mobile, the council and operators used feedback from passengers texting to plan services and target infrastructure.
  • Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch are considering coming together to make one super-authority – with around 500,000 residents it will have clout – the ‘Super Council’ plan for south east Dorset.
  • Paint can be a very effective bus priority measure – yellow lines that are enforced added to adequate space for buses to pull in and manoeuvre makes a huge difference – not rocket science.

A lot of work builds on reflects what we found in our recent report Bus passengers have their say: Trust, what to improve and using buses more:

So, if you want to see a place outside the usual ‘bus success’ suspects where things are working get down to cool Poole.

20160307_145511_resized Poole promotion Poole Seaview roundabout Poole bus stop improvements Poole paint as bus priority Poole bus station

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